Sunday, June 5, 2016

Was this a bucket list item?

Can I now say my life is complete (or close to it)? We had lunch at U.P. Chuck's bar in Kenton yesterday. We drive by the place all the time but it's usually not at a time of day when we're thinking about lunch. And even if it is the right time of day to be thinking about food, let's be honest. An establishment that features a drawing of someone upchucking on its tee-shirts doesn't strike me as being a place I'm real keen to patronize. But curiosity and hunger finally won out, so we pulled into the parking area alongside the building.

Note to anyone else who might contemplate stopping there: if you're driving a car, be careful when you park. The drop from the pavement on Federal Forest Highway 16 to the parking spaces is an abrupt one. You might not notice it in a truck, but in my little Ford Focus it felt and sounded like we'd just driven over a curb.

U.P. Chuck's is a typical small town bar. You kind of feel like you're stepping into a smoke-filled room even though smoking hasn't been allowed indoors in bars and restaurants in quite a few years in Michigan. I'm not sure what the building's original function 100+ years ago, but it's been a bar/restaurant/hotel as long as I can remember. The only thing that's changed on the exterior in the past 50 years is the name. There have been some updates to the interior: a new bar and tables in the past decade or so, but that's about it. The interior space was smaller than I expected -- the building is a decent size, but the actual main bar room doesn't take up much of the first floor. There is more space off to one side, but it looked like it didn't get much use, at least not in the summer. The lights were off and I got a vague impression of chairs stacked on tables. No doubt things get a lot busier during hunting and snowmobiling seasons. Most of the reviews on Yelp are from people who found it while hunting or sledding, although the place does get some summer tourists.

The menus we got handed were really short: just basic bar food like hamburgers, a couple of other types of sandwiches, a variety of deep fried snacks (the usual mozzarella sticks, mushrooms, zucchini, pickles, and whatever else Sysco sells breaded in humongous plastic bags), and pizza. This was a really good sign in place that had exactly one person working. I tend to get really suspicious when a small eatery has an elaborate menu -- that's a sure sign everything is coming off the Sysco truck pre-cooked and just gets microwaved in the kitchen.

Anyway, the S.O. ordered a Reuben and I got a cheeseburger -- a basic cheeseburger or hamburger is the test item I tend to order if we're eating someplace I've never been before. I figure if a place can make a decent hamburger, it's probably worth a return visit. So where did U.P. Chuck's fall on the decent burger scale? Kind in the middle. The burger was a decent size and it was cooked right -- sufficiently well-done that a person doesn't have to feel paranoid about E. coli or other food-borne illnesses but not so well-done that it's bone dry and bearing strong resemblance to a hockey puck. Normally it would fall into the really good category, but there was something ever so slightly off about the taste, like maybe the grill hadn't been kept as clean as it should be or the meat was hitting the end of its useful shelf life. Or maybe the cook decided to sprinkle on some seasoning I'm not used to tasting on burgers. Who knows? If I was a mustard user or had raw onions on the burger, that slightly off taste was subtle enough that I probably wouldn't have noticed it. Was it enough to keep me from eating there again? Nope, whatever the taste was it's been more than 24 hours and I haven't started upchucking. Still, the next time we stop there it'll be to try the pizza.

Downside to U.P. Chuck's: a couple moronic anti-Obama posters on one of the bulletin boards. I have a hunch this would be a good place to not talk politics because odds are Trump fans drink there.  

Like a lot of local establishments, there are framed photos (or photocopies of photos) of historic scenes hanging on the walls. Kenton used to be a good-sized town, thanks to a sawmill operating there. It was never a huge city, but it covered several blocks with businesses and houses. The main street had two-story commercial buildings for at least a block on both sides of the road; the town itself was big enough that it even had a wrong side of the tracks neighborhood, Finn Town. Finns were at the bottom of the social ladder back in the 1890s -- recent immigrants who spoke a stranger than usual language and practiced odd customs (e.g., sauna) -- so tended to end up clumped in the crappier housing. The photo above shows the main street in about 1910. I have no idea which one of those buildings is the current U.P. Chuck's (it might be the 5th one back on the left), but I do know that none of the other two-story structures have survived. And, considering how naked the hill in the background looks (that's a pretty thin line of trees) I think I know why Kenton faded into obscurity -- it's hard to keep a mill going once all the trees are gone.

Additional tourist information: there is a rustic (basic) US Forest Service Campground about 3 miles from Kenton, the Sparrow Rapids Campground. It has six sites and is free.There's also a nice wayside/picnic area on the north side of M-28 close to where the highway intersects with FFH-16.

1 comment:

  1. If my late wife could have found a partner named Samuel, she wanted to open a place called Sam'n'Ella's Fried Chicken.


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